Being so far away from home makes it feel even more important to celebrate the holidays. Today marks the beginning of the holiest time of year for the Jewish people, the High Holy Days. Today was the first night of the High Holidays and also the Jewish New Year. I did’t want the New Year to pass me by so I asked a friend from one of my classes what he was doing for Rosh Hashanah. He had found a service at a nearby university and invited me to come along with him and a few other students from our program. I didn’t know what to expect but I was glad that I’d be able to stay connected to my family and my faith while here in London.
At 7:00 a few of us headed over to the services, which were being held by Chabad at Imperial College’s student union. While I don’t know much about Chabad I know it is an international organization that provides religious services for Jews all around the world. I was surprised when we were greeted by a hassidic rabbi and his very pregnant wife. Me and my friends were the first ones there and the rabbi’s wife introduced herself to us and invited us to light some candles with her to bring in the new year. Eventually more people arrived, just in time to start the service. The service was held in a large, wood paneled room with two sections of seating divided down the middle by a makeshift partition constructed out of tables and chairs. Men and women sat separately on either side of the wall. This was out of the norm for me, having grown up in a reform Jewish community where men and women sit together. As we took our seats the rabbi informed us that in order to ensure people sat in the front rows during the service he had set up the chair backwards. He then asked everyone to turn their chair around so that the back rows of chairs become the new front. The rabbi then leaped into the service, breezing through the Hebrew, finishing the service in under an hour. This astonished me and my friends who were used to longwinded services. I guess they’re saving that for tomorrow.
After the service the rabbi and his wife provided a meal for everyone in attendance. By the time we all sat down to eat about 40 people had joined in! The rabbi and his wife provided a full meal, complete with the traditional foods like apples and honey to ensure a sweet new year, a round challah, and pomegranate. There was also salad, hummus, lox, chicken, rice, sweet potato pie, and cran-apple crumble. During the dinner I sat next to some other BU students but I also got the chance to meet American college students studying in London with other programs and a young French woman working in London for the year. It was especially interesting talking to the French woman about the different Jewish customs she grew up with, as apposed to us American Jews.
In the middle of dinner the rabbi asked everyone in attendance to stand up, introduce themselves, and share their New Years resolution. This year my new years resolutions definitely include being open, learning, and taking advantage of my opportunities. I’m so happy to be spending the New Year here in London and I can’t wait to see what the year 5772 holds!